What is Sensory Integration and Processing?

Sensory integration and processing refers to the way the body receives information from the senses and turns it into appropriate motor and behavioral responses.  These responses are known as adaptive responses.  Sensory integration and adaptive responses are concepts that were developed by A. Jean Ayres, PhD, OTR.  Dr. Ayres created a framework that focuses on understanding how sensory integration and processing develops through active participation in typical childhood activities.  Efficient sensory integration and processing helps a person to identify, interpret, and bring attention to different sensory input in their environment.  This allows them to develop higher level motor, cognitive, and social emotional skills.  Sensory input is also used to help a person maintain an appropriate level of alertness.  This is called sensory modulation.  Children who have difficulty processing information from the senses may have poor sensory modulation, which causes them to be over-responsive or under-responsive to different sensations.  This may present as unexpected responses to sensations or fear during everyday activities such as getting dressed, playing, or going to school.  Poor sensory modulation can also affect a child’s motor skills, activity level, learning, emotional regulation, behavior, social skills, and overall participation in everyday activities.

How Can OT Help?

Skilled occupational therapists (OT) or certified occupational therapy assistants (COTA) have extensive knowledge on Dr. Ayres’ sensory integration and processing framework and how play influences child development. OTs and COTAs can help guide a child through sensory based activities that challenge their ability to respond appropriately to sensory input by making a successful, organized response. The exposure to structured and repetitive sensory stimuli during skilled OT interventions will help improve sensory integration and processing, increase a child’s ability to feel comfortable in and successfully navigate their sensory-filled world.

Fundamental Sensory Systems


Photos by EJ Cannon Photography